Published on March 31, 2021

Pandemic Production: Painting Your Way Through COVID-19

It’s been just over a year since whole swathes of the arts—theatre, concerts and even the simple act of singing—have ground to a formerly inconceivable halt. But there are pockets of artists whose practices have been able to flourish within the COVID-19 provincial public health measures. Artists such as abstract landscape painter, Samantha Williams-Chapelsky.  

“Within the last year or so, one full complete year, I’ve actually painted 100 mountain landscapes,” says Williams-Chapelsky. “Which is insane for me. I don’t usually paint that much.” 

Without classes to teach or any of her regular ‘side-gigs,’ as she calls them, her attention has fallen exclusively on her own work. 

“To be honest, I’ve probably had one of my best years yet in terms of art production—in terms of pushing myself, pushing my art style and getting my work out there,” she says. “It really was a self-directed focus.”  

Over the last decade, Williams-Chapelsky’s work has become a warmly familiar part of St. Albert’s visual arts scene. Her acrylic and oil paintings of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and lakes cascade with colour—the turquoises, sapphires and cobalts that make those landscapes a breathtaking sight, all captured on her canvases.  

The 2019 winner of the St. Albert Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Established Artist Award, her most recognizable piece for locals is probably the mural “Flags at the Finish Line.” Commemorating the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games hosted in St. Albert, the work enlivens the gray cinderblocks of Kingswood Park’s day use shelter, with waves of red, yellow and green flags, celebrating the accomplishments of every athlete at the games.  

However, while galleries are temporarily shuttered, fans have turned to followers, as art lovers take to social media to get their fix in a digital format. While she’s worked hard to establish a healthy presence on Instagram, Williams-Chapelsky estimates she’s accrued around 2,000 new followers in this past year alone.   

“There has been an influx,” she says. “I do share a little bit about my story, about my practice, about who I am, what my work is to me and I think people are looking for that human connection however we can get it.” 

She’s also noticed an increase in questions and comments about her work, saying it’s the process posts that actually get the most interactions. With inquiries about her technique and materials, she thinks it’s important that audiences see the stops and starts of creating art.  

“I always like to tell my students, ‘you kind of see a painting go through several phases,’” she explains. “The initial phase is just the sketching out. Then you see it hit this ugly phase and it stays in the ugly phase for a really long time. 

“I think it’s really important for other artists and newbies to the art world, as well as people who just love art, to see a painting go through that. Because it’s not all, I dab three little brush strokes and it’s perfect. No. It takes me hours. And if it hits the ugly phase and it stays there for a few days, like some of my pieces do, that’s okay. I think seeing that lack of perfection and that lack of finesse all the time is nice. You want to see someone having to work as well.” 

Instagram isn’t just helping her stay connected with her local community, it’s increasing her popularity in places further afield as well.  

“I do rely on it as a source for getting my work out there to different audiences and new audiences,” she says. “I’ve been selling a lot of pieces to Ontario simply because they’ve seen my work on Instagram.”  

While Williams-Chapelsky is certainly among those artists who have been able to make the most of the pandemic, it hasn’t been easy. She’s quick to admit she misses teaching, misses her students, misses exhibiting her work and the networking that comes with a gallery show. 

“It has still been difficult, because your ability to go to these places or connect with people or even just get feedback on a piece of work is gone,” she admits. “So there have definitely been a lot of moments where I’ve stalled. I think one of my biggest things to remember is just to forgive and let that go—it’s not normal times. It’s different.  We have to stop expecting ourselves to behave like normal, because it’s not.” 

Learn more about Williams-Chapelsky's work by visiting her website or follow her on Instagram

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Last edited: April 1, 2021